White Sox

What's Next for Bottomed-Out Bulls

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What's Next for Bottomed-Out Bulls

Friday, December 11

By Mark Schanowski
CSNChicago.com

I think we can all agree the Bulls hit rock bottom with blowout losses to Toronto and Atlanta and the home court defeat at the hands of the worst team in the league, at least record-wise, New Jersey.

They've now lost nine of their last 10 games, and have the worst point differential in the East, outside of the Nets. So, the obvious question, what can be done to fix the situation? We're always interested in what you think. Please post your comments in the section below.

The easy move would be to fire head coach Vinny Del Negro. He came to the Bulls with no head coaching experience, and has had a tough time earning the respect of the players on the roster. Plus, even though the Bulls don't want to pay off the contract of another head coach, Del Negro is modestly paid by NBA standards and the team could go with veteran Bernie Bickerstaff as an interim head coach for the rest of the season, then make their long-term decision next spring. With six straight home games coming up, Del Negro does have a chance to turn things around, although the Celtics and Lakers are among the teams on the current homestand. This could be a make-or-break weekend for Del Negro coming up. The Bulls face the NBA's worst defensive team tonight in Golden State, then take on Boston on Saturday. If the Bulls lose to a bad Warriors team, then get blown out by Kevin Garnett and company, management might decide to pull the plug on the Del Negro experiment. But if the Bulls show more consistent effort and pick up a win over Golden State, the heat on Del Negro could subside for a while.

So, if the coaching staff remains stable, is there anything that can be done to improve the roster? Certainly, getting a healthy Kirk Hinrich and Tyrus Thomas back in the rotation will make the Bulls a better defensive team right away. But it doesn't look like there are any easy answers for the team's offensive issues. The Bulls don't have a low post scoring option and they're among the worst three-point shooting teams in the league. John Salmons has struggled to find his shot all season, hitting just 39 percent from the field. Hinrich also was struggling with his outside shot before suffering a sprained left thumb, and he was 0-for-9 from the field in his return against Atlanta on Wednesday. So, if you can't score in the paint, and you can't make three-point shots, how can you consistently win games, even in a watered-down Eastern Conference?

Obviously, the Bulls should have re-signed Ben Gordon. He was the only player on the team who could create his own shot and get to the free-throw line consistently. We saw what Gordon meant to the team in the playoff series against Boston, and his presence on the court made things a lot easier for Salmons, who's now struggling with increased defensive attention. Gordon was the Bulls' leading scorer each of the last four seasons, and opposing teams had to respect his three-point shooting ability, opening up driving lanes for Derrick Rose. All Gordon wanted was to be paid the same amount of money the Bulls were giving to Luol Deng. And, judging by the two players' production in recent seasons, that hardly seems like an unreasonable request.

OK, Gordon is gone, so let's move on. Bulls' management is all in for the summer free agent derby of 2010, but do you really think LeBron, D-Wade, Bosh or Amare are going to seriously consider a Bulls team that could be headed to a 30-35 win season? As I've written previously, the front office should think seriously about pursuing a trade for Houston's unwanted superstar, Tracy McGrady. The Rockets have had success this season playing an up-tempo style with Aaron Brooks at the controls, and they've been reluctant to bring McGrady back, even though he's recovered from knee surgery last spring. T-Mac is a half-court player at this point in the career, and yes, I know he takes a lot of bad shots, but with the Bulls desperately in need of an offensive spark, he might be worth the risk. Plus, if you include Hinrich and Thomas in the deal for McGrady's 22 million expiring contract, the Bulls can actually create more cap room for next summer, and guarantee they can make a maximum contract offer to one of the elite players.

The other option is to forget about 2010 free agency and try to acquire a proven scorer right now. It's a little early in the season to know exactly which players might be available, but when you look at the teams that are struggling around the league, there's a good chance players like Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, Elton Brand, Monta Ellis and Rip Hamilton could be available. I'm not recommending any of those players in particular, but it's clear the Bulls need to do something or they're headed for a lost season, which could seriously impact their ability to attract a free agent next summer.

Let me know your thoughts in the section below. Remember, tonight's game against Golden State can be seen on Comcast SportsNet Plus, which is CLTV for most viewers in the Chicagoland area. If you're having trouble finding the plus channel in your area, you can find that information here. I'll see you courtside from the United Center with Kendall Gill for the pregame show at 6:30.

Mark Schanowski hosts our Bulls pre- and postgame studio coverage with 15-year NBA veteran Kendall Gill. You can also watch Mark on SportsNite, Sunday through Thursday at 6:30 and 10.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Inside the White Sox draft room with Nick Hostetler

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AP

White Sox Talk Podcast: Inside the White Sox draft room with Nick Hostetler

Chuck Garfien and Ryan McGuffey speak with White Sox scouting director Nick Hosteler inside the team's draft room at Guaranteed Rate Field.

How accurate are the mock drafts? (2:45) Can Andrew Vaughn meeting the lofty expectations? (6:40) Bobby Witt Jr's unique background (8:30), why this draft could bring a face of the franchise type player the top (11:15), and what it's like in the war room on draft day (12:30). Do they have a consensus pick yet? (13:45) Do they need to stock up on pitching? (17:35)

Is Nick Madrigal meeting expectations in Class-A? (26:40) Hostetler's sleeper pick from last season that White Sox fans should watch (30:00) and more.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

White Sox Talk Podcast

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How close is Ian Happ to rejoining the Cubs?

How close is Ian Happ to rejoining the Cubs?

Is Ian Happ nearing a return to Chicago?

In a surprise move at the end of spring training, the Cubs sent the 24-year-old switch-hitter down to the minor leagues to work on his swing and try to cut down on strikeouts.

Happ's numbers in Iowa don't jump off the page at you (.240/.362/.422), but it looks like he may be turning a corner of late. He homered Monday night then went 4-for-4 with another homer, 2 doubles and 5 RBI in the second game of a doubleheader Wednesday.

That's obviously a very small sample size, however, and even including that, Happ is still struggling to make consistent contact. He has struck out 14 times in 25 at-bats over his last 8 games. 

His overall strikeout percentage on the season is 25.9 percent — a major improvement on the 36.1 percent mark he struggled through in the big leagues last year. But Happ had never struck out more than 23.6 percent of the time in a season coming up through the minor leagues, so that number is still higher than the Cubs would like to see.

"If [the mini hot streak] were sustained, you'd have to really start listening," Joe Maddon said. "I'm following him via video, watching the at-bats. I'm doing that almost daily with him. I know prior to that, he had still had some problems with strikeouts. 

"And then hit a home run the other day and that seems like that's led to this other home run. That would be primarily a call on the front office and the minor-league part [on when to call him up], but I will watch the video. The home run I saw, I liked. I thought he had much better balance on the entire swing."

Obviously the Cubs aren't going to overreact to a couple games and deem Happ ready to return to the big leagues based off a handful of at-bats.

But there's also a solid case to be made that he could help the club in Chicago right now.

Despite a hot start to the season, the Cubs' role players have really fallen off the last few weeks and much of the offensive damage has come from the big boppers (Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Willson Contreras) recently.

There's no indication Ben Zobrist is coming back anytime soon, as Maddon said Thursday morning he hasn't spoken to the veteran in a couple days. 

David Bote and Jason Heyward have looked better this week, but they were struggling for the first couple weeks of May. 

Daniel Descalso has really been scuffling, hitting .097 with only 1 extra-base hit in May and his defense at second base has been below average.

Then there's Mark Zagunis, who isn't doing much of anything for the Cubs — literally. He hasn't started a game since April 26 and hasn't seen even one inning in the outfield since then, either, serving exclusively as a pinch-hitter for the last month.

So if the Cubs decide soon that Happ is ready to return to the big leagues, they have a simple decision on the roster spot and right now, there might be an avenue to a decent amount of playing time either at second base or the outfield.

Happ may not be the best or most experienced defender at second base, but he's seen some time there in the minors this season (59.2 innings) and he can also play either of the corner infield spots and all three outfield positions.

But would it be prudent for the Cubs to call up Happ if they don't even have room for him to play every day? That could throw a wrench in his development, which is clearly something the organization has been committed to.

Albert Almora Jr. is still easily the best centerfielder on the roster and has been great offensively for the last month, so it's not like he's done anything to deserve falling back into a platoon with Happ in center like they shared for much of 2018.

"It's hard. You would want to [call him up only if there's ample time to play him]," Maddon said. "But if you could morph him in and there's a platoon that's worthwhile, you could do that, also.

"But part of him being [in the minors] right now on a consistent basis is to get these kind of at-bats to get this all worked out and you would not want to lose that, either. But when he were to come back, being that he could hit left-handed obviously permits us to do other things."

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